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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Al Jazeera Denies That Journalists Detained in Egypt Confessed to Terror Charges

Christiane Amanpour of CNN confronted Naguib Sawiris, one of Egypt’s wealthiest men and a supporter of the military-backed government, over the detention of a team of Al Jazeera English journalists.

Egyptian officials said on Thursday that journalists from the Al Jazeera English network detained on Dec. 29 had confessed to being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist organization by the military-backed government that took power after the ouster in July of President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the group.

The statement from the prosecutor general, reported by the English-language Daily News Egypt, did not specify which of the three detained journalists were said to have confessed to being members of the Brotherhood. The detained journalists are Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian citizen and the station’s acting Cairo bureau chief; Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent; and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer.

According to The Daily News, the prosecutor’s statement said that “some defendants confessed during the investigations that they had joined the terrorist group,” a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. “It has been proven that the defendants gathered and edited video material to re-create reports fabricating the situation in Egypt to tarnish the country’s reputation and delude international public opinion by saying that a civil war is going on in Egypt.”

Al Jazeera published a statement of its own on Thursday denying that its employees had confessed to terrorism and calling for the reporters’ release. None of the three men have been formally charged with any crime.

The accusations against our journalists do not stand up to scrutiny. Our detained team had been working in Cairo for some time and people can still watch their work online. It was all of the highest journalistic standards and integrity, as has been all our output since the start of the momentous events in Egypt three years ago.

The prosecutor’s measure of issuing a statement like this is unusual, as it looks like a prejudgment on an ongoing investigation. Claims that anyone has ‘confessed’ are rejected by our journalists and legal team.

We have been overwhelmed by the global calls for our journalists to be released, and the Egyptian authorities would be well advised to take heed.

Nancy Youssef, a Cairo-based correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, secured a rare jailhouse visit with Mr. Fahmy in a prison on the outskirts of Cairo this month and described the brief meeting in an account published the next day. She said Mr. Fahmy appeared “haggard and confused but healthy.”

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, one of the Al Jazeera English journalists detained in Egypt, previously worked for CNN.

The dispute over the three men’s detention spilled over into a CNN interview of the Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, a staunch supporter of the military-backed regime that has ruled since Mr. Morsi’s ouster. The interview was meant to focus on the country’s constitutional referendum on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The interviewer, CNN’s chief foreign correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, engaged in a tense back-and-forth with Mr. Sawiris over the journalists’ detention, telling him, “Three of my colleagues are in jail.” Mr. Fahmy worked for CNN in Egypt before taking a job with Al Jazeera English and formerly contributed to The New York Times. Mr. Greste is a former correspondent for the BBC and won a Peabody Award in 2011 for his coverage of Somalia.

Peter Greste is a former correspondent for the BBC.

Mr. Sawiris responded to Ms. Amanpour by saying that the men were guilty of “incitement against Egypt” and “making up stories,” but he also appeared to argue that their worst crime was undertaking these activities without a proper permit. “The minimum they should have done is get a permit for that, that’s all,” he said.

Many Egyptians accuse Al Jazeera, especially its Arabic-language network, of infusing its news report with a bias in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, and since the military takeover in July the government has come down hard on the network.

At least two other Al Jazeera employees, Abdullah El-Shamy and Mohamed Badr, are in Egyptian custody, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which said Egypt was one of the top 10 jailers of journalists in 2013. The organization also said that Egypt was one of the three most dangerous countries in which to be a journalist in 2013, with six reporters killed there on the job.

On Wednesday another correspondent for the network was arrested while filming a segment on the constitutional referendum in the Fayoum oasis, according to Egypt Independent, an English-language news source. An Associated Press cameraman was also arrested on Wednesday when the police mistook him for an Al Jazeera employee after his images appeared on the network.